Vulnerability and sharing are tricky things with social media.
It’s been oft-observed that most people choose to share the positive, exciting parts of their lives here. Vacations, weddings, births, and all the various accomplishments we encounter in life are the meat and potatoes of what people reveal online. They’re safe, they make us look good, they give off the impression that we’re living happy and fulfilled lives.
Certainly, not all negative things get hidden. I see a lot of people sharing their grief over death, especially over time. I remember it being less common in the past, but perhaps we’re getting comfortable as facebook becomes more of a fact of life, in combination with its slow support for varied reactions (until recently, I never felt comfortable liking an announcement of a death).
But there’s so many things that never show up here. It’s not very often you’ll see someone announce that they’re suffering from crippling depression. People generally don’t feel comfortable saying they lost their job, dropped out of school, or failed to achieve one of their dreams. But if you pay attention, you can often tell when something’s up.
We’ve probably all had those moments where you stumble across someone you haven’t kept up with for a while, and the tone of everything they share has changed. They moved. They’re alone in all their pictures. Wait, weren’t they married — oh my god they got a divorce. It’s these moments that remind us how much of our lives remain obscured from most of the world.
Of all the aspects of life that are shared asymmetrically on social media, relationships are probably at the top of that list. It’s universally cool to express your love and affection here. No birthday, anniversary, or wedding dare go unannounced. Even the saltiest cynics will gleefully post every picture with their loved one. But you never see the other side.
It often seems that no one wants to hear about how painful it is to go through a break-up. You won’t find nearly as much support if you want to talk about how much it sucks to be single, how lonely the world can feel without a companion, the emptiness that comes with parting from someone who fundamentally understood you, or the way that memories of past relationships can haunt you at random moments throughout your day.
Admittedly, it’s tricky stuff. Assuming you care about the people in your life – past and present – you have to take so much caution with what you let slip out. Oversharing can damage more lives than just your own. The safest option is often to say nothing at all, to grit your teeth and bear it.
But for myself – and I have to assume for many others – so much of my life experience is wrapped up in my past relationships. I learned so much. There are beautiful memories. intense pain, embarrassment, frustration, lessons learned, time lost, and wisdom gained.
It feels like such a dishonesty to say nothing about these things, but I lack any notion of a healthy way to broach these topics through this medium. I don’t know what the solution is, or if one exists at all. Perhaps facebook will never be a place where that kind of honesty is truly safe.
It seems a grave tragedy that the parts of our lives that would benefit the most from community support, open communication, and honest discussion, are ostensibly the most taboo. How many marriages would benefit if we were more willing to discuss the thorny, complicated realities of long-term relationships? Could we not all learn from each other’s mistakes? Don’t we all have lessons that we wish someone had shared with us earlier in our lives, that might have made us better partners, better human beings?